Vaccine Passports?

With the news that the UK government said that businesses are free to pursue vaccination ID tech, how likely are vaccine passports?

Vaccine Passports

The phrase ‘vaccine passports’ refers to people (who have been vaccinated) being able to show proof of vaccination in the form of digital vaccination credentials/a digital ID, perhaps on an app, enabling them to gain access to services and venues (for cinemas, events, and concerts), for international air travel, or even to get jobs. The implication is that those without a vaccine passport will not have access to these things.

What Would It Take?

Vaccine passports would require the development of an app-based ID system that is reliable, accurate, secure, and is recognised by most businesses, organisations, and government agencies nationally and internationally (for travel overseas).

Scientists From The Royal Society appear to believe that vaccine passports are feasible and whilst not advocating the idea, they suggest that it is likely that they will be introduced and that international standardisation of the criteria for issuing vaccine passports will be required.  With this in mind, the Royal Society has outlined 12 criteria that vaccine passports could meet to be workable, which are:

– Meet benchmarks for Covid-19 immunity.

– Accommodate differences between vaccines in their efficacy and changes in vaccine efficacy against emerging variants.

– Be internationally standardised.

– Have verifiable credentials (it is possible to prove that someone has been vaccinated).

– Have defined uses.

– Be based on a platform of interoperable technologies such as different operating systems (Android or Apple) and different devices (phones, tablets and offline).

– Be secure for personal data.

– Be portable.

– Be affordable to individuals and governments.

– Meet legal standards.

– Meet ethical standards.

– Have conditions of use that are understood and accepted by the passport holders.

Already Testing

Some companies and countries are reported to be at least testing ideas for vaccine passports.  For example, Estonia, working with the World Health Organization (and others) is reported to be testing a vaccination certificate for use at its borders and Israel is reported to be developing a green passport and a purple badge, on a smartphone, linked to ID, to allow access for vaccinated people to places such as gyms, centres of worship, hotels, and more. Israel, however, has a relatively small population, a good supply of vaccine, and a centralised health care system which could make a system like a vaccine passport seem more viable.

Companies such as Salesforce and Emirates Airlines are also reported to be working on apps that could be used as vaccine passports for international travel. 

No Jab, No Job

Some businesses in the UK have also been looking at ‘no jab, no job’ contracts for workers, which would most likely involve a vaccine passport.  For example, Barchester Healthcare (200 care homes in the UK) and Pimlico Plumbers have been featured in news reports as looking to implement a policy whereby all new recruits would need to have COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of getting employment with those companies.

Alternative

Although the UK’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment), Nadhim Zahawi, appears to have offered businesses the freedom to pursue potential vaccination ID tech ideas, he has also made it clear that the UK government’s stance is that rapid flow tests would be a better method for ensuring people can enter venues safely.  Rapid (lateral) flow tests detect active infections and although they may be cheap and relatively fast (20 minutes), and good generally for detecting people at the most infectious point, there are still questions about their overall accuracy. 

Some have criticised Zahawi’s suggestion that lateral flow tests would be a good option for venue access, saying that it would simply not be practical given the number of tests required, the amount of time people would be required to wait around, and the impact on prices and more.  For example, The UK Cinema Association said asking all customers to have a rapid test and then to wait 30 minutes for a result would be “impractical” and that it could lead to a “50% uplift on their cinema ticket”.

Combination

The government is hoping that the combination of the national vaccine programme as well as testing will be a way back to a kind of normal. Some are also predicting that private companies will use a proprietary solution and open protocols (e.g. blockchain) to create a hybrid solution which they will then go to the government to endorse.

Challenges – Technology, Privacy, Security, Ethics, and Discrimination

The idea of a (digital, smartphone-based) vaccine passport has many challenges including:

– The mobile technology needed may be beyond the capabilities of the UK government.

– Discrimination against those who, for whatever reason (the young, pregnant or can’t have the jab for medical reasons), have not received (or chosen not to receive) the vaccine.

– Ethical questions about forcing people to feel that they must be vaccinated and favouring those (jobs, services, and travel) who have had the vaccine.

– Scientific questions about how long immunity lasts and whether vaccines will actually protect against new variants, whether vaccination will help with any kind of ‘herd immunity’, plus how often boosters/new vaccines will be needed in the coming years.

– Questions about the legal standards required to operate this system.

– Questions about data protection and data security for digital ID and sensitive information (vaccination records and personal details).

– Questions about human rights and equality.

– A potential backlash from groups who do not want to be vaccinated.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

At this point in time, national vaccination programmes are still underway. Although initial research results have been very positive (showing that vaccination appears to be significantly reducing hospitalisation and severe symptoms among older age groups) it is still not completely clear how vaccination will affect the transmission of COVID-19 on a large scale and this in itself is a challenge for a vaccine passport idea. The UK government is currently pinning its hopes on vaccines, treatments and testing, including lateral-flow tests for rapid testing in communities and workplaces as a way forward, although suggesting to businesses that they can explore solutions may mean that other options may be considered going forward. 

There is global inequality in vaccination programmes and the availability of technology (e.g. smartphones for apps) and creating international standards for passports would clearly have practical challenges in addition to all the other challenges (security, ethics, equality and more). The nature of the disease, its spread, scale, and impact are things that have not been experienced in living memory. Although there are annual, optional flu vaccinations in the UK with the record of vaccinations being held at individual surgeries, the scale and complications vaccination for COVID-19 (and where we are at globally with technology) will undoubtedly involve the need for new solutions towards record-keeping of vaccinations for a population in the developed world who are used to using smartphone apps for many forms of verification, accessing services, buying tickets and more.  It is not inconceivable then, that a kind of smartphone-based ID system that’s fast and convenient could be something that businesses in hard-hit sectors (entertainment, travel and hospitality) are hoping for and would consider to help them recover and move forward.

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has recently been reported as saying that there will be a review into the use of vaccine passports, probably led by Michael Gove and that it is possible to consider the vaccine passport issue at the same time as the rollout as vaccinations. However, the Prime Minister also acknowledged that there are some complex issues around the idea.  The announcement this week that all British adults are to be offered a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine by July 31 could form the basis of a vaccine passport programme in the near future.  With schools due to go back within weeks and with more than 100 days still to go before most restrictions are lifted, however, it’s still a case of ‘wait and see’.

Featured Article: AI and Automation in Recruitment

With AI already revolutionising recruitment, we take a look at the benefits (and challenges) and the future direction of AI for both recruiters and applicants. 

Attracting the Best Talent 

One of the big challenges facing the recruitment industry today is not only finding and attracting the best talent in an affordable and efficient way, but also in tracking positive results so that their recruitment strategy can be repeated and refined. 

The Growth of Technology 

Despite technology in recruitment becoming increasingly common in the last 20 years, being able to meet that challenge of finding and hiring the best talent cost-effectively has remained complex, costly and time-consuming. For example, the average recruitment cost is £4,000 with an average time of over 30 days (Smart Recruit). Many feel that the wide-scale adoption of recruitment technology – “RecTech” – has been somewhat of a curse regarding the quality of the recruitment process, as applicant tracking (ATS) and HR systems have not dramatically evolved simultaneously with the widespread use of RecTech over this 20 year period. Furthermore, the online recruitment environment has become difficult for jobseekers, with 80 per cent failing to engage effectively due to the poor quality of job advertising and overall substandard candidate experience. 

Automation, the Pandemic, and Digital Transformation 

Many companies and recruiters have been keen to introduce some aspects of automation into the recruitment process – particularly the early selection stages – to help manage the volume of applicants and to make the best use of often depleted resources.  The volume of applicants per vacancy has always been a challenge; however, with the pandemic resulting in more redundancies, this has further intensified the demand. Also, many businesses have undergone an accelerated digital transformation due to the necessities of remote working during the pandemic lockdowns, and it has been estimated that digital adoption in both consumer and business behaviour has been advanced by as many as five years in just eight weeks (McKinsey). Therefore, this has led to the online shift of more aspects of the recruitment process, where technology is being utilised more than ever to assist with the handling of numerous inquiries and to improve the efficiency of critical tasks such as sifting through candidates to reveal the talent that companies are looking for. 

Current Examples of AI and Automation in Recruitment 

AI and automation have already been successfully implemented within some notable companies’ recruitment processes. Below are some real-life examples of how AI is being used:

  • Tengai

In March 2019, TNG and Furhat Robotics in Sweden developed a social, unbiased recruitment robot called “Tengai” to be used to conduct job interviews with human candidates. The robot, which looks like an internally projected human face on a white head sitting on top of a speaker (with a camera and microphone built-in), is made with pre-built expressions and gestures as part of a pre-loaded OS that can be further customised to fit any character. The neutrality of this robot ensures that from the beginning of the candidate selection process, candidates are judged on an objective and skills-focused basis, identifying the required competencies needed for a successful candidate. Clients for the Tengai robot are believed to include Findus, TNG, Altran (Engineering + R&D) and Cloetta (confectionery company), with its use being further expanded in the recruitment and staffing within the Banking and Finance, FMCG and the Public Sector industries.

  • Vodafone 

Vodafone uses the HireVue platform to help tackle its challenge of 100,000 graduates applying for just 1,000 jobs. HireVue has been reported to have helped tackle human bias from the recruitment process by enabling the analysis of 25,000 data points from video interviews to sort candidates into highly recommended, recommended and not recommended in a way that correlates well with the company’s assessments.  Reports indicate that HireVue has helped Vodafone to cut their time-to-hire from 23 days to 11 days, as well as reducing candidate dropout rates by 30 per cent and tripling cost savings.

  • Pymetrics 

Pymetrics claims to use behavioural science-based assessments and audited AI technology to collect objective behavioural data in order to measure a job seeker’s true potential, rather than just looking at what they have done in the past according to their CV.   Some well-known brands that are known to have used Pymetrics include McDonald’s, JP Morgan, PwC and the Kraft Heinz food group. The AI-based platform uses questions to evaluate different aspects of an applicant’s personality and intelligence e.g. risk tolerance and speed of response to situations.

  • SRO

SRO is a research-driven and cloud-based, evidence-based talent acquisition platform that is designed to centralise recruitment, where everything is viewed on a single dashboard, transform user and applicant experience, and maximise the visibility of jobs across the entire online environment so that more jobs get filled in a time and cost-efficient manner. The platform uses advanced CV Parsing and candidate Grading technology, provided by Silicon Valley-based Burning Glass, to automatically populate data, rank, and grade applicants.  SRO claims to currently support over 700 clients and more than 27,000 UK based recruiters, and to have maintained a 98 per cent independently assessed satisfaction rating since 2016.

  • Textico

Seattle-based Textico uses AI to help firms write more inclusive, understandable and accessible adverts that appeal to a broad range of people.  Its clients are believed to include World Bank to Dropbox, Spotify, and Tesco.

  • Korn Ferry

The AI recruitment software of Korn Ferry, a global organisational consulting firm, enables recruiters to proactively search the Internet for potential job candidates rather than simply waiting for the best people to apply. 

How is AI Transforming Recruitment? 

AI in recruitment has become increasingly popular and utilised in recent years due to its convenience and fast results.  AI is ultimately helping to transform recruitment by fusing both the digital and human elements: 

Digital – Increasing efficiency and saving costs through the automation of time-consuming, administrative tasks:  The use of AI-based recruitment platforms can help companies to make better use of their available resources by handling some of the time-consuming administration that tends to occur in the early part of the process. The time taken from application to hiring of a successful candidate is shortened due to less sifting and reviewing, and as such resource cost and valuable operational time is saved. For example, “IBM…estimates that it has realised “almost $1 billion in savings” since 2011 by integrating artificial intelligence and other modernization efforts in its HR department, according to global head of talent Obed Louissaint.” (Maria Aspen in Fortune, Special Report on Artificial Intelligence, ‘This tech giant says A.I. has already helped it save $1 billion’, 24/01/2021). This is beneficial for both the recruiter and their resources (i.e. costs and time taken) and the candidates in question, as they can start sooner!  

Human – Reducing human error and biases from the recruitment process: The risk of decisions being made with subconscious biases is significantly reduced through the use of computers and hence lends itself to an overall “fairer” and more consistent process. For example, a recent London School of Economics study of the behaviour of recruiters on employment websites applied the algorithms to the online recruitment platform of the Swiss public employment service.  The study found that recruiters treat otherwise identical job seekers who appear in the same search list differently, depending on their immigrant or minority ethnic background.  The same study also showed that at certain times of the day, when recruiters become tired, they fall back into ‘intuitive’ decision-making.  Furthermore, for some attractive jobs, there is a risk that recruiters, who may be under pressure, are increasingly prone to being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of responses, and as such not all candidate applications received are properly assessed.  An automated AI-based system can improve the chances that all applications are initially given consistent consideration. 

Challenges of AI and Automation in Recruitment 

Although there have been many operational benefits to AI in recruitment, some important challenges still remain. These include: 

  1. Problems with human bias: 
    It may be very difficult to remove completely human bias from AI-recruitment systems, as ultimately the data input into “teaching” (i.e. programming) the machine how to “think” may consist of those very human biases it aims to avoid. For example, in 2018, Amazon was reported to have scrapped its own system due to an apparent bias against female job applicants. 
  2. Prone to manipulation:
    AI systems could be manipulated by certain applicants.  For example, Tribe Pad (software) research found that 88 per cent of candidates who are aware of applicant tracking systems (ATS) have tried to optimise their CV (usually by adding in relevant keywords and phrases) to get through what they understand to be the initial selection process.
  3. Lack of human emotion and interaction:
    Job applicants may be deterred by the thought of having to go through a completely automated hiring process.  This means that more successful AI-based recruitment platforms and processes should at least include some more human elements, such as the use of video interviewing.

The Effect of AI on Recruitment Jobs 

There is an argument that AI-based recruitment platforms could result in the replacement of 16 per cent of jobs within the next 10 years. However, as AI-based recruitment is used by more companies, there is also an argument that understanding AI technologies will be a valued skill in itself and those trained in AI-based recruitment platforms may themselves benefit from being able to leverage the advantages AI input could bring to the overall recruitment process. 

Looking Ahead 

With the landscape of modern recruitment set to face many challenges, the use of AI-based tools to assist with the overall data handling and operational processes looks set to become much more popular, with 88 per cent of companies globally already using AI in some way for HR 84% (SHRM). Furthermore, the pandemic has prompted the need for and implementation of digital transformation, with remote working and reduced physical meetings further increasing the demand for more AI-based recruitment platforms and solutions going forward.

Condemnation For Facebook After Blocking News

Facebook faced condemnation and challenges in other countries after blocking ‘news’ content from its platform in Australia and although a last-minute turnaround will mean the return of news to its Australian site, this may not be without damage to the social media giant’s reputation.

New Law

In Australia, the new law, which is currently a Bill for an Act to amend the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 in relation to digital platforms, is the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Act 2020.  Full details of the Bill can be found here:  https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2020B00190

Pay For News

The Australian government argues that because big tech companies like Facebook and Google acquire customers from people who want to read the news, these tech companies should, therefore, pay newsrooms a “fair” amount for their journalism through the process of paying the news sites for snippets and links.

The Australian government also argues that having a strong news media helps democracy, but ‘traditional media’ (e.g. newspapers) have experienced a decline in sales and ad revenue, and this traditional media needs financial support.

Facebook, Google, and other tech companies are also facing the lobbying might of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Australia to encourage a change in the law that could see tech firms paying.

Facebook Blocks News

Last week, in response to the threat of being made to pay publishers under the new law, Facebook blocked Australian users from sharing or viewing news content on the platform i.e., blocked all Facebook pages of local and global news sites.

There have been reports that, in addition to blocking news content, Facebook also blocked several other sites including a bookstore, charities, a domestic violence support service, Australia’s national Basketball and Rugby bodies pages and even several government health and emergency pages (which Facebook said was a mistake).

Condemnation in Australia

The move was criticised by the Australian government, with Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying (on Facebook’s platform), “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing.”  Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that the ban had a “huge community impact” and that “I think their actions today were unnecessary and wrong”. 

Although both sides have talked since the ban to find a solution, for the time being, the Australian government has said that it remains committed to implementing the new law.

Condemnation From Canada

Canada reacted to Facebook appearing to play hardball with the Australian government by saying that it would make Facebook Inc pay for news content. Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault highlighted the different models that the country could adopt with regards to making big tech companies pay.  For example, the Australian model requires tech companies to reach deals to pay news outlets where the links drive activity on their services, or to agree on a price through arbitration. The French model requires tech companies to hold open talks with publishers about their platforms to allow publishers to seek some kind of remuneration for use of their news content.  Mr Guilbeault said, “We are working to see which model would be the most appropriate” and described what he saw as Facebook’s move to simply cut ties with whole countries as an “unsustainable strategy”.

Condemnation From the UK

The UK has also waded into the argument with Julian Knight, the chair of the British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee describing Facebook’s moves as “bully boy action”, saying that the blocking of news in Australia by Facebook would “ignite a desire to go further amongst legislators around the world”.

News Media Association chairman Henry Faure Walker described Facebook’s action in Australia as “a classic example of a monopoly power being the schoolyard bully”.

Google Reaching Multiple Agreements

Even though Google initially threatened to remove its search from Australia, Google (Alphabet Inc) decided to pay $1 billion to publishers globally for their news over the next three years. Google’s plan is to pay publishers to create and curate high-quality content for what Google is calling its ‘Google News Showcase’.  This new product will launch in Germany first, where Google will pay German newspapers such as Der Spiegel, Stern, Die Zeit, and then in Brazil where Google will pay Folha de S. Paulo, Band and Infobae for content.  Further similar rollouts of paid-for content as part of the Google News Showcase are planned to take place in Belgium, India, the Netherlands, and other countries. It has been reported that so far, 200 publishers in Argentina, Australia, Britain, Brazil, Canada, and Germany have signed up to the Google News Showcase.

Last week, it was reported that the Rupert Murdoch-controlled media company News Corp had also struck a global news deal with Google.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Big Tech companies like Facebook and Google are now under pressure from many countries and some big news organisations to pay something for the news links and content featured and shared on their platforms. Although Facebook is still arguing about what the definition of ‘news’ is, many people do not accept the argument that big tech platforms are not publishers. Google appears to realise that getting into arguments with whole countries is futile and could be very damaging to its brand and has opted to pay something, but more on its own terms by agreeing to pay a set amount per year to large groups of publishers as part of its ‘Google News Showcase’. It also appears to have settled with a powerful opponent, News Corp, which should take some of the heat off. After its initial arguments, and seeing other countries queuing up to take a hard line with it, Facebook may also decide to adopt a similar strategy to Google.

Post Office Biometric Authentication

The Post Office has announced that its new, free app will include the latest biometric-face matching and liveness biometric authentication.

Partnership With Yoti

As a result of a partnership with London-based digital identity company, Yoti, Post Office customers will be able to use a free app that will combine their personal data and biometrics to create a secure, reusable ID on their phone. 

Yoti’s CEO, Robin Tombs, says that his company has invested over £85m creating the ID platform which, as part of Yoti’s Digital ID free app, is designed to give users a convenient way to prove their identity or age, and the app already has over nine million downloads.  The partnership between the Post Office, which combines the Post Office’s existing experience in identity services and branch network, and Yoti’s leading technology, looks set to give Yoti many more users.

Build Your Own Secure, Digital Identity on Your Smartphone

Elinor Hull, Post Office Identity Services Director says “Access to products and services is increasingly moving online” and “We’re responding to this shift with a free-to-use app that will allow customers to build their own secure digital identity on their smartphone, enabling them to easily control and prove who they are to whichever business they want to interact with”.

Enables Identity Transactions

This will mean that customers will be able to carry out identity transactions such as passport and driving licence renewals without the need to go to a Post Office branch.  Customers will also be able to use their digital identity to help them carry out other online and in-person transactions more quickly and easily, such as one-click bank account applications, job and mortgage applications, picking up parcels and for travel purposes.

In-Branch Too

The partnership with Yoti will also mean the rollout of a suite of in-branch services for customers who do not have access to a smartphone or who prefer face-to-face contact when asked to confirm their identity. The in-branch services will be launched as a pilot in 750-branches in July, thereby enabling customers to transact simply, safely, and securely both online and in person. 

Useful For Businesses

The Post Office’s Elinor Hull says, “For businesses, we are providing a suite of transactional and reusable identity verification services that will enable them to serve their customers with ease, trust and at low cost.” 

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The Post Office is keen to show that it’s embracing new technology and staying competitive and relevant, and the app plus in-branch services should make it easier for the Post Office and customers with regards to service. For Yoti, which already has millions of users of its ID app, this high profile partnership will go some way further to making it a trusted market leader.  The fact is that so many products and services are now moving online (and at a faster rate with the pandemic) means that there is now a real need for a convenient and secure common trust framework that works for both users and businesses. Also, the hope is that using an app of this kind will help to deepen users’ trust and confidence in digital identities which can only help businesses as the use of biometrics for verification/authentication becomes more widespread across more industries.

Tech Tip – Continuing Where You Left Off With Edge

If you would like to preserve all your browser tabs and reopen them the next time you restart Microsoft Edge e.g. if you’ve had to restart your machine while browsing, here’s how:

– Open Edge, click on the 3 dots (top right) and select ‘Settings’.

– Click “On startup” in the sidebar.

– Select “Continue where you left off.”

– Close the “Settings” tab. The next time Edge is closed and restarted your tabs will be where you left them.

– To always open the same pages every time you open Edge, go to “Settings, “On startup”, and choose “Open a specific page or pages”.  From here you can choose which page will be displayed whenever you open Edge.

Man Sued For Leaving a Bad Review

Consumer review website Trustpilot has expressed concerns over freedom of speech after a firm of London solicitors sued someone over a bad review.

What Happened?

Philip James Waymouth, who had sought legal advice (online) from London-based Summerfield Browne solicitors appeared dissatisfied with the service and left a bad review of the solicitors on the Trustpilot website, saying that they were “another scam solicitor”.

Summerfield Browne is then reported to have (successfully) sued Mr Waymouth for a false and defamatory review, resulting in Mr Waymouth being ordered to pay an eye-watering £25,000 in libel damages.

Condemned By Trustpilot

Trustpilot has condemned the use of legal action, placing a notice next to Summerfield Browne’s profile on the Trustpilot website saying, “We strongly oppose the use of legal action to silence consumers’ freedom of speech”.  The Trustpilot notice also says, “As a public, open, review platform we believe strongly in consumers having the ability to leave feedback – good or bad – about a business at any time, without interference. 

This is the first time we’ve seen a business taking such extreme measures against a consumer voicing their genuine opinion. The vast majority of businesses on Trustpilot engage with their consumers or use our flagging tools to report content and resolve their issues.”

Even though the profile has now been temporarily closed for reviews, there are still a number of negative reviews on the Trustpilot profile for Summerfield Browne criticising the action taken, and one review appears to go into some more detailed allegations about the case.

Not Contacted

It has been reported that Trustpilot was not contacted by Summerfield Browne and that the review in question wasn’t evaluated using Trustpilot’s grievance process.

Solicitors Firm Says…

Summerfield Browne Solicitors are reported to have said of the case that “As a family firm, the decision to pursue legal action was not one we took lightly and doing so gave us no pleasure”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Trustpilot relies on people being able to give honest opinions online about companies and their services without fear of any serious consequences. Being sued is likely to act as a deterrent for people to use platforms like Trustpilot, could reduce the value of reviews (as some may be less inclined to be totally honest), and could set a dangerous precedent for other review sites and platforms where reviews are given.  It is no surprise, therefore, that Trustpilot has been very public in its condemnation of the action of Summerfield Browne.  Some businesses, however, particularly those who have received reviews that have damaged their business e.g., on TripAdvisor, may see this as a legitimate way of reminding people to think carefully about the impact of their actions online and of giving back a little more power to businesses to protect themselves where they feel they have been treated unjustly in a way that could hit their revenue and reputation.

Coronavirus Lockdown Increases ‘Romance Fraud’

UK Finance and Action Fraud have both reported increases in fraud related to romance scams over the lockdown period.

What Is Romance Fraud?

Romance fraud/romance scams refers to fraudsters adopting fake personas online in order to fool a victim into thinking they are in a serious romantic relationship with the aim of convincing the victim to send money (e.g. bank transfers, gifts) or share personal information which can later be used to commit identity fraud. Fraudsters (gangs) also use romance fraud victims to help them launder money.

UK Finance and Action Fraud Figures

With Valentine’s Day just gone, UK Finance figures show a 20 per cent increase in bank transfer fraud in 2020 on the previous year linked to romance scams.  UK Finance figures also show that the total value of these kinds of scams rose by 12 per cent to £18.5m.

Action Fraud

In both 2019 and 2020, the amount of money lost to romance fraud outstripped that stolen by online shopping fraud, according to Action Fraud, which is the main reporting body in the UK.

Who?

Lloyds Bank data shows that those who are particularly at risk of romance fraud are people aged 55 to 64.  These are often people who live alone an/or may be out of touch with family and friends, may not be skilled with technology and may be at a point in their life where they are actively looking for a relationship. The national lockdowns and other restrictions on social lives over the pandemic also appear to have made it easier for romance fraudsters to target and exploit their victims.

Dating Apps

Dating apps are one of the main ways that romance fraudsters target their victims and Online Dating Association figures show that 2.3 million UK citizens used dating apps during the lockdown.  Many of those targeted through dating apps are thought to have been duped into losing £18.5m through bank transfer fraud in 2020 with an average loss per victim of £7,850.

Romance fraudsters also use fake social media (Facebook) profiles and pages, using stolen photos as well as fake websites in order to support an online persona. They often pose as soldiers, merchants, or professionals, and closely study the online profiles of their victims in order to help provide fuel for manipulative conversations.

Not Reported

Many people do not report falling victim to romance scams due to embarrassment and shame, and many victims have their self-esteem damaged as well as losing money.

Bank Code

In 2019, banks agreed upon a code that if a fraud victim is found to have “taken reasonable care and has any element of vulnerability” they may be able to receive a refund from the bank.

How To Avoid Romance Fraud

Steps that people can take to avoid falling victim to romance fraud include:

– Making sure that a person can physically (and safely) meet the person face-to-face who wants a relationship with them.  Romance fraudsters tend to avoid personal contact, preferring email, phone, Skype to hide their fake identity and avoid difficult questions.

– Have a healthy suspicion of people who try to move the conversation quickly away from communication through a dating website to other more private means e.g., email, or of anyone trying to randomly connect via email, Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, or other online means.

– Google the text used in conversations as it is often part of a well-known scam script.

– Use Google Image search at images.google.com to check if any photographs of a person are genuine, stolen or have featured in other scams.

– Never send money to a romantic online contact.

– Contact Action Fraud with any suspicions of romance fraud.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although dating sites and social media are generally used legitimately, it pays to be suspicious of certain types of behaviour and requests, and if something sounds too good to be true, it’s often because it is.  Fraudsters are skilled manipulators, often used scripted, tried and tested approaches and are aware that potential victims may be emotionally vulnerable for a number of reasons.  This is something that has been exacerbated by the isolation, separation, and restrictions of the pandemic lockdowns. 

Featured Article: Energy – Consumption & Carbon From Bitcoin and Other Tech

With the news that mining Bitcoin uses more electricity annually than the whole of Argentina, we take a closer look at the carbon footprint of technology today.

Cambridge

Researchers from Cambridge recently highlighted how power-hungry “mining” for the Bitcoin cryptocurrency is because it requires heavy computer calculations to verify transactions.  The researchers reported that it consumes 21.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year meaning that if Bitcoin were a country, its energy (electricity) consumption it would be ranked above Argentina and the energy could power all the kettles in the UK for 27 years!

Mining

Bitcoin “mining” is the activity that uses the energy. Mining refers to needing to have specialised Bitcoin computers that are constantly on and connected to the cryptocurrency network to verify transactions (sending and receiving of Bitcoin).  This verification is achieved by the computers solving puzzles to prevent fraud and to win small amounts of Bitcoin. The whole process is extremely energy-hungry.

Greater Popularity Means More Power Consumption

Bitcoin has received some boosts in its popularity recently which have resulted in a boost in buying activity with the cryptocurrency, and consequently, an increase in its energy consumption.

For example, most recently, Elon Musk’s EV company Tesla bought $1.5bn of Bitcoin, which encouraged a surge in other investors.  Also, PayPal now allows US customers to buy, sell and hold bitcoin (and other tokens) in their online wallets, Square bought $50m in bitcoin in October because of its perceived future growth potential, and major banks (e.g. European Central Bank) considering getting into cryptocurrencies. There has also been more speculation from investors seeking safety after an uncertain year at the hands of COVID-19 and its effects on the global economy.

All these factors have meant a rise in the value of Bitcoin which has attracted Bitcoin miners to run more machines and, therefore, consume more energy with the effect of creating larger quantities of damaging CO2.

Perspective

Although Bitcoin mining may be good news for energy companies and bad news for the environment due to current contribution to excess CO2 production, there are other areas that are often overlooked where huge improvements in excess energy consumption could be made by relatively small changes.  For example, the amount of electricity consumed each year by home devices in the US alone that are always-on but not active could power the entire Bitcoin network for a year.

Leaving devices on standby (e.g. the television and phone chargers plugged in and switched on) has long been known to be a source of wasted energy, CO2 pollution, and higher bills.  For example, the Energy Saving Trust believes that an average UK home wastes between £50 and £86 each year by leaving appliances on standby.

Simple changes such as putting a computer in sleep mode rather than letting it stay constantly in screen saver mode when it’s not being used (which can take up more energy than actually using the computer) can save a lot of energy and contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions.

Even Google Searches

Back in 2009, there were reports that performing two Google searches from a desktop computer could generate roughly the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle (i.e. around 7g of CO2 per search).  This was a newspaper report (Sunday Times) which, after further consultation with Google was revised to say that it did not refer to a one-hit Google search taking less than a second, which Google agreed produced about 0.2g of CO2.

And Emails….

In November 2020, a Financial Times report based on work by Tim Berners-Lee and Ovo Energy highlighted how sending fewer emails could help tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions. The report suggested that sending emails uses a lot of energy and produces carbon.  This is because in order to allow emails to be written and sent, energy must be used by servers, home wi-fi, and a laptop.  Also, the carbon emitted to construct data centre buildings could also be taken into when assessing the environmental impact of email as this represents significant greenhouse gas (carbon) production.  The report estimated that although each individual email is likely to be responsible for producing an incredibly small amount of carbon as a proportion of the 435.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses produced by the UK in 2019, there is likely to be a cumulative impact. This impact is likely to be made greater by the sending of “unnecessary” emails.

For example, Ovo Energy commissioned (Censuswide) research shows that the 64 million “unnecessary” emails sent every day could be responsible for contributing 23,475 tonnes of carbon a year to the UK’s carbon footprint. Unnecessary emails are categorised as those sent to friends within talking distance, or those containing replies such as ‘thank you’, ‘thanks’, ‘received’, and similar.

There is, of course, the argument that whether sending emails or not, having laptops, computers, Wi-Fi routers (and more) switched on all the time is contributing to the production of carbon and that separating out the individual contribution of emails is difficult. It could also be argued that game and video streaming and cloud storage have more of a negative impact than sending emails.

Data Centres

The huge and growing demand for Internet and mobile phone traffic and the increasing reliance on the Cloud has led to more data centres being built by big tech companies. It is estimated that data centres use 200 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year which is more than the energy consumption of some countries e.g., Iran, but only 1 per cent of global electricity demand. In terms of their carbon footprint, data centres contribute around 0.3 per cent to overall carbon emissions.  That said, Hyperscale data centres, which emerged about a decade ago, are reported to have kept electricity demand at roughly the same level due to becoming super-efficient and the stripped-down, bare-bones servers.

Apple Reports Fully Renewable Energy Data Centres

Back at the end of 2018, Apple reported that it had hit a new milestone in green energy usage by making all of its 43 data centre sites across the world operate using 100 per cent renewable energy. What that meant was that the data centres could be 100 per cent ‘renewables powered’, due to the ‘clean energy’ that Apple was buying and putting back into the power grid that could be offset against its global power consumption.  Apple reported that this had been achieved by six years of financing, building, or locating new renewable energy sources (e.g. solar and wind farms) near the company’s facilities. In 2018, Apple said that it had 25 operational renewable energy projects, and 15 more in construction, spread across 11 countries.

There was some criticism at the time, however, when it was pointed out that the manufacturing of iPhones, iPads and other machines creates carbon emissions.

ICT

The whole information and communications technology (ICT) ecosystem, which encompasses personal digital devices, mobile-phone networks, and televisions, has been estimated to account for more than 2 per cent of global carbon emissions which makes its carbon footprint the equivalent of the aviation industry’s emissions from fuel (prior to the pandemic).

Looking Ahead

It appears that our need for smart devices, the Internet and electricity is only going to increase. Making devices and data centres that are much more energy-efficient, switching more to green energy, and carbon offsetting are some ways that the tech industry is trying to limit its carbon footprint.  Also, Carbon Capture Systems, such as the ones recently highlighted by Elon Musk’s offer of a $100M prize are another way that harmful carbon, such as that produced by the ICT ecosystem could be physically removed from the atmosphere, but there is still some way to go on this.  For now, it is unlikely that most people will think about the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining and some commentators have pointed to the need for a carbon tax on cryptocurrencies to help balance out some of the negative consumption.  It is also unlikely that with businesses trying to recover from the pandemic they are going to think about limiting how many emails they send.  The fact is, however, that businesses and individuals each have a responsibility to take what measures they can to reduce their own carbon footprint and that governments are likely to continue using a combination of punishments and rewards to help us all meet the agreed environmental targets.

Scotland Shames The Rest of UK for Free Electronic Car Charging

Zap-Map figures show that Scotland has the largest number of free electronic vehicle (EV) charging points in the UK.

More Than A Quarter of the UK’s Free Chargers

The latest figures from EV charging infrastructure trackers Zap-Maps show that of the 21,000 charging devices listed on Zap-Map, 4,900 are free to use.  This means that Scotland has about double the number of free electric charging devices than south-east England and Scotland has more than a quarter of the UK’s free chargers.

Access Fee Still Payable

Scotland has 4,655 chargers with nearly 30 per cent of them free to use, and although a large percentage of public charging devices in Scotland are free to use, EV motorists still have to pay an annual access fee of £20 to the operators, Chargeplace Scotland, Scotland’s national Electric Vehicle (EV) charging network.  The ChargePlace Scotland network grew from 55 public charge points in 2013 to over 1,500 in 2020.

Northern Ireland

The Zap-Map figures also show that Northern Ireland is well-served in terms of free charging with 72 per cent of its charging devices free to use.  The actual numbers of charging points in Northern Ireland are, however, still relatively low.

The carNI EV charging network in Northern Ireland and the ESB ecars network in the Republic of Ireland (which are interoperable and accessed using the ecarNI Access Card) report that there are currently only 334 charge points.

London

Zap-Map figures show that drivers in London are certainly not as lucky as Scottish EV drivers as only 400 (only 6 per cent of its total number of chargers) are free.

Most Use Public Chargers

The Zap-Map survey of 2,200 people found that 90 per cent use public chargers when they’re out.  Supermarkets are the most popular public charging place (48 per cent of respondents), followed by motorway service stations (47 per cent) and public car parks (32 per cent).

Ultra-Rapid Charging Point Growth

Recent figures have also shown a growth in ultra-rapid charge points with 16 per cent of EV owners now using them. This trend has been helped by more cars being able to take higher charge rates as well as an almost doubling of the number of ultra-rapid charge points available.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

These figures appear to show that Scotland is taking a lead in free EV charging.  The fast-growing EV industry and fierce competition now among car manufacturers and charge point operators makes it clear that having a robust and reliable charging network across the whole of the UK is going to be an important priority. Where and how cars can be cheaply charged is an important consideration for motorists who are thinking of making the move to EV now.  There is, however, still some confusion in the marketplace about charging options which is one of the reasons why The Department for Transport (DfT) is introducing contactless payment at charge points, forcing operators to provide a 24/7 call helpline for drivers and making location data, power rating and price information more accessible, with the hope of reassuring motorists that charging EV’s can be easier than refuelling with petrol or diesel.

Tech Tip – Restoring Previous Versions Using File History

If you’d like to restore a previous version of a file in Windows 10 you can do this using File History.  Here’s how:

Firstly, to enable File History:

-Go to ‘Settings’ and select ‘Update & Security’ and in the left-hand-side menu, click on ‘Backup’.

-Under ‘Add a Drive’, if no dive is listed you will need to add a drive option e.g., external storage connected to a USB port.

-Select that drive and the ‘Automatically back up my files’.  This will enable File History and will toggle to ‘On’. This can be toggled to ‘off’ when not required.

-The ‘More Options’ link below the toggle/slider allows you to select when you want your back-ups to occur, which folders you’d like to back up and it allows you to select backup to a different drive.

To Restore old versions:

– Restoring previous versions of files can now happen by opening File Explorer, finding file or folder you wish to restore, right-clicking on the file or folder, then selecting the Restore previous versions option.

Previous versions will be displayed in a list. Select the version to restore, select the Open button at the bottom or to restore it, select Restore.